Could Air Travel Become an Early Casualty of Climate Change?

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It may simply be a run of bad luck, but even though I don’t travel much, I’ve hit a series of weather-related travel delays. And some of them have been severe. LaGuardia remained open well after its normal midnight closing time Monday night as all NYC airports were shut to travel twice last evening. My plane was diverted to Bradley, Connecticut, where so many other planes had landed that we could not get a gate. It was touch and go as to whether we’d have to stay overnight. A colleague was stranded in DC because her flight was cancelled.

And LaGuardia was even more third world than it has ever been thanks to the construction.1 If you want to take a cab, unless you have so many bags you are using a SmartCart or are in a wheelchair, you now can’t get a cab at the terminal. You have to take a bus to a parking lot where they wait. The old cab ranks have been given over to Uber and Lyft. But that may not work so well either. As I waited an ungodly amount of time to get a taxi, a guy stormed over to try to join the queue of special situation types (who get cabs called over from the lot) because the Uber line had been shut.

But back to speculating about the future of air travel. I’d had a chat with a flight assistant seated next to me on another messed-up trip not long ago (this one among other things featured a passenger having a possible heart attack). I am pretty sure I was not so bold as to bring up the topic of climate change, but she firmly dismissed that air travel would be restricted to help save the planet: “You can’t tell people not to fly.”

I am now wondering if this problem might take care of itself if climate-change-induced increases in the severity and frequency of storms will partly take care of the problem on its own. There are certain times of year when flying is riskier (in terms of travel delays) than others, such as around major holidays, during the winter in the northern parts of the country, and during times of year when thunderstorms are frequent (in the Northeast, historically, in August).

But what happens to air travel if serious delays and cancellations become markedly more frequent? Business travelers provide only 12% of purchased tickets, but they are twice as profitable as personal buyers. Even though someone on a business trip can usually charge whatever adjustments he has to make to flight disruption, the flip side is if he misses a trip, he may miss a key meeting. And that’s before you get to stress and time wasted.

And that’s before factoring the impact of a consistent higher level of disruptions on airline costs and therefore pricing. Cancelled flights are a loss of capacity. Even though some of the passengers who were stranded will get seats that were empty, some who were starting trips may decide to cancel them. And there are other ways airlines lose revenue. I’ve happened to cancel my seat just after big weather events (one a hurricane, the other a big storm) and in each case, the carrier was so eager to get the seat it waived its usual $200 rebooking fee (meaning it was expecting to offer at least as much to induce already booked passengers to delay their travel).

And costs almost certainly go up: more fuel costs for planes circling or being diverted, needing to call in more ops center staff, overtime to flight personnel.

In other words, given how security theater has already made air travel more time consuming and less enjoyable, more and more uncertainty about whether you will actually get from Point A to Point B on something dimly resembling the original schedule is likely to lead a lot of people to become more stringent about whether they really need to make that trip and also consider more seriously driving (or where the routes are decent, using a train) rather than flying.


1 I never minded LaGuardia looking tired. LaGuardia is a short run from the city, and the gates are all very close to the drop offs and baggage claim. Great ease of access makes up for other sins. I don’t need an airport to look glam. I want to get in and out quickly.

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  1. Tinky

    Good post, Yves.

    I recently took two flights in the U.S., one from Atlanta to Chicago, and one from Chicago to NYC. The first was delayed a few hours due to weather around ORD. The latter – a 90 minute flight with a strong tailwind – took 12 hours door to door, and there were no storms at either airport that I am aware of. I spoke to a JetBlue pilot who was monitoring the latter flight, and he told me that the FAA was blocking all of the proposed routes due to the possibility of tornados somewhere on the flightpaths.

    Also worth noting is that it took over an hour for the luggage to be delivered – and this was at JFK. The explanation given was lightning in the area, which I have never previously encountered as a rationale for the baggage handlers to stop work.

    I’m already well past the point where I will choose decent train service over shorter duration flights, when possible.

    1. anon in so cal

      The remedy is to only use carry-on luggage, always. Makes it so much easier.

      Otherwise, yes, it seems climate change is affecting air travel. We fly a fair amount, including about 10 LAX – JFK round-trips per year. The last several trips on that route, much of the interior portion of the US was experiencing severe weather. This was the case last year, as well. Separately, anecdotal reports from pilots suggest there’s more turbulence on many routes, including trans-Atlantic.

    2. DJG

      Tinky: What Yves Smith wrote above and what you note square with my recent adventure. On the Thursday before Memorial Day, American sent me an SMS canceling my flight. I was expected to re-book, and when I made it through American’s goofy home page, I was given about five options on Friday that would have involved up to twelve hours of travel (early arrival at O’Hare, a flight to some smaller airport like Columbus, then some absurd layover). Chicago to Philadelphia is pretty much a 95 minute flight.

      Chicago to Philadelphia could be a nine or ten hour train trip, but of course it isn’t.

      And not even considering high-speed trains: There are plenty of existing tracks between Chicago and the East. Believe it or not, though, it isn’t easy getting a direct train from Philly to Chicago. What is needed is rethinking the train system so that I’m not changing trains in Pittsburgh and waiting for a midnight train in the horrifyingly ugly new Pittsburgh train station (which is a relic of what once was). The train system in the U S of A has to be rebuilt and reconfigured–but, of course, we can’t have nice things like dining cars. (I was also on the last train from DC / Pittsburgh to Chicago that will have a dining car.)

      After enough looting and pillaging, every country reverts to “third-world” conditions.

      1. rd

        The obvious Third World solution if your were part of the 1% is to fly private jet from Midway to a local airport near Philly.

        the grounding of the 737 Max has wreaked havoc with many of American’s summer flights. They have had to cancel many flights, so they have little capacity left when weather interferes.

    3. Jessica

      I don’t know about JFK, but I was at Denver Airport a few years back and the baggage handlers all stopped work because of lightning. A week before that, they hadn’t stopped and one of the baggage handlers was killed by lightning. That is an area quite prone to thunderstorms though.

  2. sd

    All of which just really begs the question – what’s holding the US back from investing in high speed train travel?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Existing conditions. You’d have to do way too much routing through communities (ie buying and razing housing, including housing in nice areas). You’d get huge pushback or else routes that weren’t very good (stations located well away from city centers, making them not very useful). Read up on why a high speed train from LA to SF, which would seem super logical otherwise, is a non-starter (due to the hour, I’m punting on providing links and getting the fine points right, but only a portion has been built, at high cost, and as I recall, the location of the LA end was particularly problematic).

          1. Joe Well

            In Massachusetts, where the indigenous people were never great builders, archaeological concerns were one argument against building the enormous Cape Wind wind farm. I really don’t think the argument was made entirely in good faith, but arguments don’t have to be made in good faith to be effective.

            1. Brian K Miller

              There is a long-paved parking lot in Berkeley that we are told is a sacred oyster shell garbage midden. No housing allowed!

        1. notabanker

          Yeah but, you can go London to Manchester in 2 hours and a few minutes. Once you figure out how to book and buy the tickets, it’s completely hassle free, with room to store luggage. If you book in advance you can go round trip for under 100 quid, $150 peak. It doesn’t have to be high speed.
          If I could travel Ohio to North Carolina in 5 hours without the hassle of driving or the expense of flying it would be a game changer. Today, that is a 25 hour trip, half to DC half to CLT at $170. Driving is 8+ hours over the WV mountains and flying is $250 to $300, 2 hour flight, 4-5 hour process.

          Unless you are in the Boston, NYC, DC corridor train service in the US isn’t even an option. I have to believe that is by design. Bad for the oil, auto and airline industries.

          1. Math is Your Friend

            “Unless you are in the Boston, NYC, DC corridor train service in the US isn’t even an option. I have to believe that is by design. Bad for the oil, auto and airline industries.”


            Actually, it is an issue of fundamental economics, geography, and practicality.

            In general, high speed train service requires a high population in a small area of which a large enough number are conditioned to the regimentation and inflexibility of ticketed (or equivalent) point to point transport, or who have a simple ‘commute-like’ use case.

            The costs are extremely high, and require a large and predictable ridership.

            England had a population of 55.6 million in 2017, and an area of 130,000 km^2.

            Thirty one US states are larger than that (England’s area fits between Louisiana and Mississippi, smaller than Lake Superior plus Lake Huron).

            Britain has a long history of building and using railroads, and building cities around rail transport, stretching back well before the automobile provided an alternative.

            But with all that, the HS2 rail project – with very broad political support – may never be completed, as the cost over-runs make it look like the money will run out when only the first stage has been built.

            The chairman of the project has resigned, citing cost problems as a possible reason for terminating the project at the end of the first phase.


            The much greater distances and more dispersed populations make most possible North American routes (in terms of geography of destinations without regard to population density) almost certainly financially impossible. High speed rail is just too costly when people have less expensive and often much faster alternatives, and when there are other uses for the huge amounts of money.

            In the US, light rail track costs from 100,000,000 USD to 920,000,000 USD per mile, though it would appear that all projects in the 600,000,000 USD/mile range and higher were largely underground.


            Heavy rail should be more expensive, due to the greater weight of the trains, and generally higher speeds for long range passenger service.

            As a result I suspect all long range passenger service north of the Mexican border is both more expensive than flying or driving, and/or subsidized.

            In some climates and seasons, there will be major service issues with switches and other track infrastructure freezing or being covered in snow. While a bunch of railway workers heating the switches with miniature flamethowers is interesting, it does not bode well for travel on such a day.

            As a simple technical issue, trains also dislike slopes that other vehicles find much less of an obstacle.

            That’s why trains run through tunnels and cuttings and on embankments in geographic circumstances where roads follow the terrain far more closely… keeping the slope very small avoids issues with the amount of traction available to steel wheels on steel rails.
            Tunnels, particularly, introduce cost and complexity.

        2. baldski

          Why can’t we use existing median strip of the interstate highway system and elevate in cities.

        1. Rod


          this is the sobering link(I hope I did it right) provided by Ignacio–thick but comprehensible–if you’re departing DC/ATL/CLT in July or August and its 100F+(remember that the runway will be hotter than the air temp) you want to see people being asked to stay behind-imo-for some peace of mind–particularly if your landing destination is over 100F+

          if it takes longer to become airborne then expect to land faster and harder(*note the 225mph limit on the tires)

          So, Idruid, you are not naïve to suggest something having common sense–and if there is no more ROW left because of lane expansion then take a Lane or two.

          We the People forget we own the ROW and the AIR ROUTES and their use is privileged to the benefit of the majority of our population( and that would include anything to mitigate the ongoing Climate Change)

        2. Joe Well

          I read your comment and assumed you meant, why can’t we build train lines down the middle of highways?

          I have wondered this myself quite a bit and haven’t found the answer. I realize that our highways are not as straight as train lines tend to be, but can’t we use the magic of technology to get around that?

          Failing an actual train, why not bus rapid transit and/or devote the middle of highways to tractor-trailer trucks in a “train.”

          1. juliania

            The little Railrunner line between Albuquerque and Santa Fe does that. One track, so travel is limited but it works. Bravo, Bill Richardson!

            Maybe just think small like that for a start. Getting from A to B transportation-wise. Buses to provide further linkage.

            It’s a beginning.

        3. PlutoniumKun

          The simple answer is that high speed trains are much worse than cars at turning (horizontally and vertically). The result is that a typical highway over irregular topography has a very different alignment than a high speed railway, which has to be both straighter and flatter. The only areas where it would be viable would be entering cities where the trains would be going slower – in which case elevated lines over highways might be practical.

          Sometimes they can run parallel to roads – this is usually done to minimise environmental impacts and the cost of buying land – although engineering-wise this can be problematic for all sorts of reasons. An example would the the high speed line between London and the Channel Tunnel – if you check google maps you can see where the line runs more or less parallel to the M20 between Maidstone and Ashford. But you can also clearly see how much straighter the line is and the points where its had to go under topography the highway simply goes over.

      1. notabanker

        Funny how when it comes to building gas pipelines we can magically overcome all of those issues and even get the EPA to modify their VOC emissions standards to exactly match what compression stations expel. So sorry about those 2 square miles of farmland.

        1. Joe Well

          Dare you diminish one of the signature accomplishments of the great Obama, our country’s energy independence? Shame! Racism! You are canceled! /s

      2. Jessica

        In Japan, the high-speed rail stations in Tokyo are all underground and quite well located – at considerable expense. In other cities, the stations are often fairly far from the city center. (Many of the stations whose names start with “Shin” (=”New”) are not so conveniently located.)
        The problem in the US is that there is no good public transport to get from any new high-speed rail station into the city center. For that matter, cities like LA, as opposed to New York, don’t have any good public transportation network for the high-speed rail to connect you to.

        1. sd

          Los Angeles has a subway and excellent bus service. Union Station is an architectural gem.

    2. Louis Fyne

      NIMBY, aka the power of local zoning issues to bind together even disparate, arguing neighbors.

      in the US, high-speed intercity rail is DOA (practically on a cost-benefit level, except for the Northeast). Inter-city rail money should be spent on commuter rail/subways/light rail to get more people out of cars during the daily commute.

      IMHO, that CA high-speed rail money would’ve done more for the environment by being used to expand mass transport in SF, LA and San Diego.

    3. The other Jean

      Lobbying by regional airlines against rail. Southwest Airlines had a hand in killing high speed rail in Texas previously. Eminent domain fights. There’s a new attempt in Texas that isn’t dead yet. Here’s a collection of articles that gives you a good idea of the obstacles faced by high-speed rail:

    4. lordkoos

      What’s keeping the US from investing in rail travel, period, never mind high-speed rail? Here in the Pacific Northwest routes have been cut… at one time I could take a train to Seattle for just $2 more than the bus. Now I can’t do that at any price, since the route was eliminated. There are so many people who now commute over the cascade passes, it’s ridiculous that we can’t have decent rail service, the tracks are already there.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        The tracks are all Freight Railroad tracks. The Freight Railroads graciously permit Amtrak to travel on the Freight Railroad tracks when the Freight Railroad managers consider it to be convenient. I gather there is some kind of “law” to the effect that the Freight Railroads are “supposed” to “co-operate” with Amtrak on maintaining steady reliable reasonable access to the Freight Railways. Some of the companies “comply” more than others.

        Fuel would have to become so expensive that driving and flying long distances become unbearably price-painful for most people. Then some of those most people might decide they want a rail-travel alternative. If those people could reconquer the government and make it theirs, they could then impose good-quality good-coverage train travel infrastructure upon its unwilling enemies and competitors.

        A merciless pitiless Full Metal Hansen FeeTax and Divident aGAINST any and every fossil fuel being sold into the marketplace could raise the price of driving and flying so much . . . that the whole country might be tortured into restoring its missing rail travel systems.

        1. baldski

          JNR (Japanese National Railway) would not think of having a freight train supersede a passenger train on their tracks. Passengers come first.

    5. MJ

      High-speed trains are old technology.

      Just wait until Elon Musk brings us teleportation. Or maybe he’ll call it Teslaportation.

    1. Jim A.

      Yeah, I was thinking about heat in light of the story about the 50C (122°f) heatwave in India. I suppose that you could design planes to be able to fly in hotter temps, but that would come of a cost of lower capacity and efficiency, as well as possibly longer runways. It certainly adjusts the train vs fly decision if trains are an option.

      1. marku52

        Sky Harbor in PHX shut down last summer as it was too hot (air density too low) for planes to be able to take off. Hot air probably reduces engine power as well.

        Long ago flying out of Burbank on a very hot day, the plane had to short load fuel, fly to John Wayne (much longer runway) and take on final fuel load.

  3. Larry

    I had a similar ordeal of canceled and re-routed alternative flights. I ended up driving from Philadelphia to Providence the Friday of Memorial day weekend because my alternative was a single flight into Worcester, while my original flight departed Providence and my car was parked there. I drove to avoid having the one Philly to Worcester flight suffer delays/cancelation. This was a business trip, but I lost a day of work in transit. I tend to encounter problems when I don’t have direct flights or I’m flying to smaller cities like Cincinnati. Connections often have very narrow windows making any delays highly likely to be disruptive.

  4. John B

    Interesting! A rare example of a self-correcting feedback loop for climate. Most seem to work the other way.

    Unfortunately the main factor that is driving the volume of greenhouse gas emissions from air travel is the growth of the middle class in China, India, and similar countries. That effect is so large it will likely swamp reductions in flying convenience. But it would be interesting to see a study.

  5. Clive

    I now don’t even bother considering flying London to Edinburgh. For one thing, London Heathrow is 45 minutes travel time for me, so the four-hour train journey time is already making up ground just taking that into account. Then there’s the check-in which even for short haul I don’t like cutting down to less than an hour due to unpredictable lines in the security theatre nonsense (I’ve given up taking even hand luggage such is the palaver, to save a bit of time).

    But the thing which tipped my over the edge was the fact that internal flights always, without exception, get pushed down the queue as international departures are prioritised. In over ten years of flying this route I have *never* departed on time on the evening return “leg”. The typical delay is 45 minutes and I’ve often (say, half a dozen times) been held in departure for two or even three hours due to weather — a storm in any part of Europe quickly feeds back into U.K. domestic flights as there is zero slack in the system as assets are sweated mercilessly. Even at the gate, boarding gets held up as crew are displaced, having to come in on connecting short haul flights from other European routes and even if it’s not terrible weather, a strong jet stream in the wrong place might add half an hour to a two hour flight, which is plenty enough to wreck a roster.

    The low-cost airlines, which are now the only game in town on U.K. domestic routes, are in a bind. Add in more gapping and crew transfer time to increase resilience and you end up with less productive assets which increases costs. But the present business model is not only at breaking point, it’s well past it.

    1. stan6565

      Hear hear.

      And you can always stroll up and down the carriage to stretch your legs and back. And you can have nice read or kip in your non-herded-cattle seat.

      I have taken this a step further. I now plan my business in central London around train/tube lines and have more or less stopped using the car for this. £14 for the 6 zone travel card, trains are generally on time and unless you are trying to get into Bank at 8:30 am, you have choice of seats. No congestion charge (£12), no crazy parking rates (£5ph), no elez (£12). Okay, slightly less convenient for phone calls, but it generally seems to work OK.

    2. Tony Wright

      I flew London to Edinburgh last January. Never again . Two hours faffing about with no less than FIVE security checks in the airport, then jammed into a claustrophobic sardine can full of overweight, overdressed ,farting passengers, most of whom had been allowed to board with too much hand luggage. The only joy was that BA unwisely asked me to participate in a customer survey, so I got to unload on them, somehow without the use of appropriate expletives. BA domestic is the pits. Never again.
      Five days later I flew Ryan Air fromEdinburgh to Riga. Way less aggravating, despite Ryan Air being the cheapest of the cheap.

  6. kees_popinga

    I have made three trips from New York to Texas in the last two years: two were Greyhound and one was Amtrak. The bus has gotten better since a British company bought them a few years ago. On time, no missed connections, and the drivers run a tight ship. There is a rumor Amtrak might cancel its longer-trips-with-diner-car such as the Crescent Line to New Orleans. This would be a shame, as that is very pleasant way to travel. Since I was not in a tearing hurry, all three of these trips were preferable to dealing with the airport Gestapo and all the stress of hurtling through the upper atmosphere in a sealed tuna can, burning jet fuel.

    1. Carolinian

      I long ago took the Crescent from SC up to Delaware and the jouncy ride on poorly maintained freight rails was anything but pleasant.

      Things may have improved as I believe the rail companies now weld the rails as in Europe rather than the traditional practice of bolting them. However wooden ties are still used rather than the concrete ones used by those great (by US standards) overseas passenger lines.

      The US is just too spread out for rail to once again become a major option except in thickly populated regions like the Northeast. Rail will continue to be used mostly for freight but better buses have the potential to replace rail for passengers.

  7. vlade

    Business travel doens’t come into EasyJet/Ryanair business model (and for them, they try to do superflexible tickets, but I believe it’s still a minor income).

    That said, the hit to the European air travel might be Brexit. If the pound massively tanks, and the unemployment shoots up at the same time, the cheap hols abroad become not so cheap, and the Ryanairs/EJs of this world might get snuffed. They have intra EU routes, and that market grows, but I believe majority of their income is still from travel to/from the UK (UK has four spots in the top 22 airports, Spain has three in top 20 – but two top UK airports have more traffic than those three together).

  8. Max

    I spent years working for real estate companies that invested nationally, and the frequency with which the higher ups would fly around the country for brief meetings always seemed insane to me. There’s absolutely a value in face-to-face contact, but I wouldn’t be surprised if even my old bosses who seemed to spend at least 50% of their days in the air (and would absolutely take last-minute/end-of-year “status” trips) would re-evaluate that travel if they found themselves missing those brief meetings all the time.

    I could also see client pushback curtailing some business travel. A good friend is a consultant to public institutions, and spends tons of time in the air (billed back to clients). I don’t have the heart to rip into him on the necessity of his weekly flights, but could see a more frugal client start to ask why he needs to be in city X each week when a phone call from home would suffice.

  9. Wukchumni

    We’ve only flown a few times domestically since 9/11, and perhaps a dozen international flights as well.

    Lets talk about speed, which is where I think the slowdown will come, not just flights. 114 years ago, Death Valley Scotty wowed the country in setting a speed record. The train averaged a little over 50 mph in the LA-Chicago run.

    Only 64 years later, we were doing close to 25,000 mph in the Apollo moon missions, and if airlines go away, we might well be going around 50 mph in the USA, as all there will be largely, is cars.

    The Scott Special, also known as the Coyote Special, the Death Valley Coyote or the Death Valley Scotty Special, was a one-time, record-breaking (and the best-known) passenger train operated by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (Santa Fe) from Los Angeles, California, to Chicago, Illinois, at the request of Walter E. Scott, known as “Death Valley Scotty”. At the time of its transit in 1905, the Scott Special made the 2,265-mile (3,645 km) trip between the two cities at the fastest speed recorded to date; in doing so, it established the Santa Fe as the leader in high-speed travel between Chicago and the West Coast.

  10. vlade

    I fly a lot (for work), although every year I fly a bit less than the year before, so that’s good.
    Over the years, weather tends to be an issue on flight delays, but TBH, the main sources of massive delayes tend to be strikes of air control staff, especially in France, which are becoming more and more common.

    Storms were causing delay this year more than the last one, but it wasn’t unusual (looking back almost a decade). Large weather caused delays were happening years back when the UK was hit by snow, and the airports had no clue how to cope.

    It was actually quite funny (for a definition of funny). First year it was treated as a a fluke, and everyone said “not gonna happen again”. When it happened the next year, they went and bought a lot of expensive equipment and gear. Which then sat at the airport for the next three years doing nothing much (but now is actually used few times a year I believe).

    Other delay causes (which are shorter, but way more common) are fellow travellers, who think that getting on the plane 20 minutes past when the plane should have left the gate is perfectly fine, and tend to get upset when one takes it up with them.

    1. rd

      The US airlines have generally gotten quite strict about closing the boarding doors at the appointed time (if the plane is on time to begin with).

      The primary exception I run into is the final flight out from a hub where the airline knows that there are passengers coming in on a plane that is a few minutes late. So they hold the plane for them for up to a half-hour. Nobody on the waiting plane minds because they have all been in that spot before and they hope the plane will wait 20 minutes for them when their turn comes. Usually the air traffic is low at that time, so you don’t have to wait for many planes to taxi and take-off unlike rush hour at the major airports.

  11. Svante

    Sporadically, driving from NYC to B’Ham, ain’t no crystal stairway, either. US 40, around Knoxville is even nastier than the unremitting psychotic nightmare, from the Lincoln Tunnel to I-78. Tornadoes, hail, ice storms, torrential rain are welcome diversions to cruise-control cavalcade o’ codgers in RVs, pulling boats or fifth-wheel trailers at 71mph the length of I-81, blocking the passing lane. Never thought I’d be so glad to reach where Boorman filmed Deliverance & Road Warrior airport traffic (heading south). OR the first Sheetz (COFFEE, Parliament Funkadelics, and Pixboig Polak grub & baked goods, heading home?) 18″ of icy snow in Tennessee, hundreds of jacknifed semis from locals Insatgramming selfies of the storm coming up behind us, and one cracker with a plow truck sums up all our futures, pretty nicely.

  12. vlade

    To your footnote. All airports that I use got a facelift in the last few years. In all cases, the major (sometimes the only) part of the facelift was change of traffic (people) routing post the passport check.
    That meant two things: making people go the long way through massive duty-free shops, and removing free seating. Clearly, both changes towards skimming more money from the travellers, and changes I absolutely hate.

    1. Tony Wright

      Most Airports nowadays are expensive shopping malls and security hubs. Sometimes planes take off too…. Thank the “privatise everything” disease for the former, and terrorism and the Government responses for the latter. Said security measures would be a lot more tolerable if there was some degree of consistency between airports and nations. As it is they just look like they are making it up to look safe.

  13. mle detroit

    Interesting discussion. Two questions: Are video calls only for grandparents? And does anyone remember that W. E. Deming 30 years ago was using the business traveler stressed by delays and a chart of the most effective time to reach the gate as examples of optimizing a business system whose “aim” was profits?

    1. Cold Hearted Liberal

      It’s made worse, at least by my perception and experience, that layover windows keep getting narrower. Last year I had to transfer at O’Hare with a scheduled 45 minutes. Of course, landing was slightly delayed and they didn’t bother to hold the flight. My option was wait to next day or fly to another nearby Airport. This year my travel to US plan shows similar tight windows.

  14. marieann

    I have family overseas so usually the only time I fly is to visit them. Because of the security circus at airports I now detest flying and my husband, who had to back to back trips because of funerals, will no longer fly, as a consequence of that he will miss our sons’s wedding in Jamaica in December.

    I would like to think you are correct and climate change with decrease the amount people fly.I also wonder if we are at the end of the cheap flights and that might also slow down people’s desire to fly

  15. David

    I fly somewhat less than I used to, thank goodness, because I’m convinced that it’s getting more and more unpleasant and potentially dangerous. Over the last twenty years we have seen smaller aircraft substituted for larger ones, the radical decline of service in economy class and more delays and bad weather problems. I’m convinced (though this is necessarily subjective) that turbulence is worse than it was a generation ago. The level of stress getting through an airport is such that in recent years I have come to regard the flight itself as the easy bit.
    A lot of these problems are exacerbated by competition at the lower level . Because businesses is where they make their money, airlines have increasingly crapified their economy services competing with cattle transport like EasyJet full of people who travel rarely and are only interested in price. But on many routes now, ´low cost’ is all that’s available and there’s nothing worse than traveling on business in a cabin full of holiday makers with screaming children. Business travelers get some relief from this but also the chance to exploit the system. I remember being told years ago by an insider that a major cause of overbooking was companies buying multiple full fare business tickets for senior managers so they could catch the most convenient flight back, and the company would be reimbursed for the tickets not used. This caused chaos at the gate at the last minute.
    All in all, I wonder whether, with carriers like Asiana and Alitalia on the brink, the deregulated model will survive much longer even without the effects of climate change.

    1. vlade

      “nothing worse than traveling on business in a cabin full of holiday makers with screaming children”

      Clearly you haven’t travelled with enough of English stag dos and hen parties.

  16. john BOUGEAREL

    I have started to look at booking by train and bus this year. Though I admit, I don’t like the aggressive security at the train depots at Union Station in Chicago and such

    1. Svante

      It IS kind of interesting, to watch formerly VERY affluent white folks fuss and fume about the indignity of bus and train travel from places like Manhattan Island, to the hinterlands; now that all our fuming and fussing about TSA, hateful criminal airlines, horrifying airports, bailing wire, duct tape and software planes inspected… where? I’m waiting for autonomous trucks, trains and aircr… oh, that’s right, autoland? Sane, efficient, usable municipal, intercity or transcontinental transportation is anti-American. Only terrorists, superpreditors and bums RIDE traind and busses?

      1. Svante

        There goes that “s” word again? If airports are mostly honkeys, annoyed by predominately black & Latino TSA harshing their buzz and Bus terminals look like some Kansas lock-up from a Huddie Ledbetter song; when are we going to hire uppity little armed women in lurid hijabs, cattle-prodding us onto trains, punctuated by leaky dilute bitumen tanker cars?

        This is going to be a long hot summer?

  17. TheMog

    With my consulting job I fly a lot around the US, although this year it’s a bit less than usual.

    Between the security theater taking up more and more time (which you can at least partially avoid, in true neoliberal fashion, by spending money on TSA Precheck/Global Entry and Clear) and the airlines seemingly operating with no spare capacity, weather and other events seem to have more and more of a knock-on effect that seems to be getting worse every year. IME what would’ve been a delay of a couple of hours a few years back can easily mushroom into an unplanned overnight stay even for someone who has status on an airlines and potentially a business class/first class ticket simply due to a total lack of spare capacity. The fact that some of the credit cards targeting frequent travelers now include special benefits regarding delayed flights is a bit of hint there, too.

    Between issues like that and hotel prices in places like Silicon Valley, I’ve encountered quite a few clients who are now more open to remote consults via video conferences etc.

    At this point in time I take the car or train when possible – unfortunately I have to drive a fair bit to get to a convenient train station, but when traveling to NYC I’d rather take the train than fly.

    1. rd

      I drive to anything within a 4-5 hr drive (in my case, that covers Boston to Washington along I-95) as it is not possible to complete an airplane trip in less than 4 hrs if it is on-time, including the getting to the airport and then to your final destination part.

      We do a lot of conference calls. We only meet face-to-face when you really have to (kick-off meetings, site visits, major negotiating meetings).

      1. Felix_47

        Clients are happy to pay for expenses when they compare it to what they would pay if I fly. And clients take some training but teleconference or consultation works fine. So it is one meet and greet and then a lot of electrons to do a deal. And Youtube helps as well if the Feds don’t destroy Google because of privacy issues.

    2. ddt

      Speaking of newer ways the neoliberal model’s being applied, anyone else noticing all the “fastpass” lanes replacing carpool lanes in the bay area? Now the tech bros can drive their SUVs and be nickel and dimed per mile going to and from their Silicon Valley jobs while the rest of the mopes are stuck in traffic.

      1. JBird4049

        So much for climate change when it comes to money I see. Even having a two passenger instead of a three passenger requirement reduces congestion and air pollution. Not that Bay Area has a problem with that. /sarc

  18. rd

    I pretty much never fly through Boston to Philadelphia airports as hubs as they are far too unreliable. I also avoid Atlanta in the spring/summer, especially afternoons and evening due to thunderstorms. O’Hare has gotten better now that FAA cracked down on the airlines booking too many flights in critical time slots.

    Unless you live in a hub city, you can’t fly anywhere direct. Since I don’t live in a hub city, It takes two legs for me to go just about anywhere. So I pick my flights based on the reliability of the hub city as much as cost. It takes a very cheap fare to have me consider flying through NYC area.

    It is also good for hotels, as I will generally fly in the night before for a critical meeting as flying is usually too unreliable to fly in the morning of the meeting.

    BTW – my biggest delays have been due to computer system update/upgrade failures on both airline management systems and airplane systems, not weather.

  19. Wyoming

    A lot of responses discussing the lack of convenience of current air travel. But if it is just convenience which results in less air travel we have missed the point entirely.

    We desperately need all non-business/official travel to just flat end. Period. A passengers share of the CO2 emissions for an LA/NY trip amount to about 1000 lb. LA to Europe and back – about 4000 lbs. All for no good purpose or actual need. Not to mention that business and official travel are to a large extent also not necessary. It all has to stop and the sooner the better. And, yup we are going to have to shut down all the trendy tourist spots around the globe and everyone there will need to find something else to do. The scope of this disaster is vast. A sizable percentage of the population loves to do things which are no longer acceptable if we want to survive and an equal percentage have jobs just designed to support the them in some way. It all has to stop. Making long plane trips is no different than driving one of those giant HD 4×4 pickups around – it makes one part of the problem.

    Since I started focusing on the climate situation some 15 years ago I have made 3 plane trips which were personal business- a wedding, a funeral, and a vacation (circa 2005 for that one). I don’t intend to ever make another one. We own 1 very small fuel efficient car and rent a pickup for the day when we need one. And yes I fully realize that even then I am also part of the problem.

    1. JE

      This, yes. I despair of how to implement it however.

      Teleconference can replace 99 percent of business travel imho. I’ve been running or team member on several high tech startups (hardware and software) in the past 5 years where the team is fully distributed, including globally. Works fine.

      To succeed we need to get buy-in from the public at large. Per the book Sapiens (great read BTW) humanity functions on myths. Economy, nation, religion, all shared make believe. We must change the mythology globally in order to solve climate change. Dictating no flying or driving will backfire. Changing the myth will allow orderly acceptance. A myth of global mobilization for example. Someone above my pay grade will have to figure out how.

  20. Jerry B

    ===You can’t tell people not to fly===

    Not to get off topic but I have been thinking a lot about the idea of “freedom” in relation to climate change and also the using up of resources (i.e. fossil fuels, water, etc.).

    The flight attendant’s comment struck me as typical for someone living in the US and the extreme versions of freedom and individualism in this country. The main tenets of life in the US has been political freedom and economic freedom. Economic freedom as used in the Milton Friedman’s free market and free to choose views. Even though most people realize the US is not as politically or economically free as people think. I digress.

    IMO if we are to survive climate change and transition to a post fossil fuel lifestyle the US (and the world) will have to transition to a sort of “planned” economy. This will be accomplished either through government ( the easy way) or when fossil fuels/resources become scarce and there are conflicts over resources (the hard way)

    The idea of not have complete freedom and a planned economy is completely out of the realm of thought for most US citizens. My sense is for the people in the US transitioning to a planned economy will be like the Vincent D’Onofrio character in Men in Black and Climate Change/Resource depletion will be the aliens response.

    My sense is the US used to be a more economically conservative country pre WWII and shortly after WWII (the 50’s) but when the free market consumer /consumption explosion started in the late 1960’s then all sense of radical conservatism was lost.

    And to go back to being economically conservative or a planned economy will involve what Daniel Kahnemann call’s loss aversion i.e most people will view giving up their fossil fuel driven lifestyle as a “loss” and fight it tooth and nail. Hence the Men In Black video clip and the flight attendant’s comment of “You can’t tell people not to fly”.

    I hope this comment made sense. I took muscle relaxers for a bad back last night and I am a bit groggy this morning. I think the idea of how people view “freedom” in political and economic terms is very important in coping with climate change and resource scarcity and I am surprised it has not been discussed much in the media or the blogosphere.

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      Less consumtion.

      Less (recreational) flying. It amazes me that people would fly across the country to see a football/basketball/soccer/etc game, or for a weekend of gambling.

      But that provides jobs, and keeps the GDP from shrinking, I suppose.

    2. juliania

      Really good comment, Jerry B! Much food for thought; deserves to be digested slowly, thought about at length. I would totally agree that the problem goes very deep. This country has changed as you say, and not for the better.

  21. JohnHerbieHancock

    We can’t have high speed rail like Europe and Japan because we’re too spread out.

    Except so is China, and they just built thousands of miles of high speed rail.

    And we can’t have high speed rail because it costs too much, see, e.g. California… except France has similar, if not higher labor costs, and just built a line from Paris to the South of France at 1/20th the cost.

    1. Wukchumni

      A crummy little 400 miles from Chinatown in LA to Chinatown in SF is a deal breaker when it comes to high-speed chemin de fer, despite maybe 300 of the miles being easy-peasy and dead flat.

  22. eg

    I have enjoyed the Toronto-Ottawa train ride, even though it is a little slow being the “milk run” that it is, what with so many stops. Still, it’s spacious and relatively civilized.

    I would wonder about water as a problem for US transcontinental trains, given the flooding that seems to be increasingly on offer, but I defer to those with a better grasp of US geography than this Canuck, eh?

  23. rd

    Distance is a big issue. LA to SF is the same distance as Glasgow to London where you have crossed most of the UK with multiple cities in between.

    Paris to Moscow is the same distance as NYC to Denver. Copenhagen to Rome is the same as NYC to Kansas City or LA to Seattle.

    So there is a lot of land acquisition and capital required to build a rail line over those distances in a country that doesn’t want to pay for roads or sewers.

    1. rtah100

      1) How can the reasons against high speed rail in the US be simultaneously:
      – the country is too thinly populated; and,
      – land is too expensive?

      It truly doesn’t add up!

      2) Route planning is part of the solution. HS2 in the UK is a disaster because it ignores the advantages of high-speed rail and follows a shortest-distance path from London to Manchester, diagonally across the country (expensive commuter belt + hills). A slightly longer route straight up the East Coast (flat, arable land) and then across the northern belt would not significantly increase journey time (because of the fixed time overhead of acceleration and deceleration at the beginning and end) and would provide better connectivity.

      3) To pick up on the Paris Moscow route being the same distance as NYC to Denver – that may be true but the Paris Moscow sleeper does the journey in a day when NYC to Denver takes 2 days…

  24. Jeremy Grimm

    I think the world is slowly growing larger with places growing more distant from each other. Time is also in flux. We are being compelled to slow down by the expansion of space and time. After the dispatch of air travel and the past destruction of our rail system, the ongoing decay of our highway systems, and the increasing costs of cars and fuel — I think the US has developed a considerable tendency toward economic and social fragmentation greater than that of many other countries. How will the transoceanic-transcontinental supply chains survive? But with so little produced here — unless you count financial inventions — how will our commerce survive? Now, seems like a reasonable time to regard this question.

    Air travel may not be the only victim of Climate Chaos. It may come much in the future — or not — the 2016 paper J. Hansen et al.: “Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms”, [], reports evidence for large ocean wave in Earth’s recent past — which might put a dent in ocean transport:
    p. 3780 [p. 20 of 52 in the pdf file]
    “We first examine the Eemian or MIS 5e period, the last time Earth was as warm as today, because it is especially relevant to the issue of rapid sea level rise and storms when ice sheets existed only on Greenland and Antarctica.”
    p. 3782 [p. 22 of 52 in the pdf file]
    Megaboulders: “In North Eleuthera enormous boulders were plucked from seaward middle Pleistocene outcrops and washed onto a younger Pleistocene landscape (Hearty and Neumann, 2001). The average 1000 t megaclasts provide a metric of powerful waves at the end of MIS 5e.” … “It is generally accepted that the boulders were wavetransported in the late Eemian.”

  25. jcmcdonal

    A lot of us at my company fly a lot, mostly north american and Oceania. We’ve definitely noticed that this year in particular about half of our US flights get cancelled or delayed.

    We almost never have the same problems with Australia, Hong Kong, Philippines, Malaysia, etc.

    So either weather is worse in the US, or it’s management related. I’d pick poor management, where the airports and airlines run so close to the breaking point that any small event screws everything up.

    1. Brett

      As someone who has now had to fly almost 2000 flight segments in my career with 500 or so international, I agree wholeheartedly with the notion that poor management in the US is the fundamental issue. Disgruntled staff at the airlines and with FAA is most likely a root cause. I always fly a foreign airline when I fly overseas and avoid American like the plague. I have been bumped by American with a code share partner business class ticket when they wanted to get their own employees home on a flight. In the US, I rank them Alaska, JetBlue, Southwest, Delta (only this low because of ATL) and United in order of traveling preference. I do find myself having more conference calls and Zoom meetings these days but still the trips persist with more grouping of meetings if at all possible.

  26. mtnwoman

    I’ve seen this in 2019 even in the South.

    Been flying SC to DC for ten years at least once a month (carbon offset via carbonfund)

    Just this year I’ve experience more delays and cancellation (even 2 days ago) due to weather.

  27. mtnwoman

    I’ve seen this in 2019 even in the South.

    Been flying SC to DC for ten years at least once a month (carbon offset via carbonfund)

    Just this year I’ve experience more delays and cancellation (even 2 days ago) due to weather.

  28. Michael McKaskle

    I have always thought Cap and Trade was a poor way to deal with climate change but I thought of a good use.
    My numbers are not perfect, I am rounding US population to 333.333 million and guessing total air person miles flown within and to the US in a year to be 2 Trillion for easy math. An air person mile is how far people have traveled by air. 100 people on a plane flying 1000 miles would be 100,000 air person miles.
    Using those numbers 6000 miles was flown per American that year (not all of which were flown by Americans). Therefore, everyone gets ‘coupons’ (which could be digital) good for the purchase of 6000 miles of air travel the next year. If you use the coupon you still pay airfare and hopefully associated Carbon taxes to fund efficient alternative transportation options. If you don’t use it you can save it for some amount of time, say 5 years so you could save them for a trip around the world. You can also sell them for what ever you can get from those who want to fly to Paris twice a year. Or people could buy them to hold them until they expire. You could take the train someplace instead of flying and have your vacation paid for.
    As coupons expire the number issued in the future is reduced. Airlines and their alternatives could plan ahead accordingly. It could be applied globally or different nations could have their own programs and I would have to come up with Korean coupons to fly there. Let us speak of Cap and Trade as when polluters are given rights to pollute. When everyone equally holds the right to pollute let’s call it ‘Coupon and Trade’, or perhaps someone will have a better name.
    That is basically it. There would be details such as how to account for air freight or over how many years to average the total person miles flown. The form could be applied to any industry that has unaccounted for subsidies and needs curbing, such as meat production. Usually scarcity means the wealthy can afford to do what they want and the rest of us get nothing, this sort of design evens things out. Of course there still need to be Carbon taxes and feebates and methane ones too. As usual the problem would be marshaling the political will to make it happen, but times seem to be changing…

  29. Stephen Masters

    Aviation will become the first casualty of climate change on the following basis: aviation emissions are a hidden factor in the cause of global warming.
    See: ‘Elephant in the Sky’ by Mark Carter.
    This: “Challenges an entrenched social norm” and is “a compelling journey through a taboo topic.”

    Solutions include vastly greater fuel efficiencies and tele-conferencing. Don’t talk about the impact upon tourism.

  30. R

    Adding to the anecdotes… Had an awful time flying from Utah to NYC during the super storm a while back that hit Chicago (where a lot of the connecting flights were happening).

    Sat in the Utah airport all day while they delayed the flight again every hour or so. We were even boarded onto the flight, sat there for an hour, then unloaded again with no clear idea of whether we would fly, or if it was cancelled.

    After around 12 hours in the airport I wanted out of there, they said there were no other flight options for me, but I found something on their website with 2x layovers – Utah to Philly to Boston to NYC :( And they put me on it.

    Believe it or not, I made it! But it was hell.

  31. Dick Burkhart

    Air travel will be hit very hard when oil prices go back up. It’s inevitable, only a matter of timing.

  32. Tyronius

    Electric airliners are not right around the corner but we’ll see them in our lifetime. That solves the emissions problem, because the same technology that makes those planes possible will also allow renewable energy to completely replace fossil fuel electricity generation; better batteries. They are coming; unlike fusion power, prototypes and new technologies are already in the lab.

    I’m still an advocate of high speed rail because overcrowding issues will never go away.

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